Ascent of Mount Whitney on 2014-06-20

Climber: Scott Larson

Date:Friday, June 20, 2014
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Mount Whitney
    Elevation:14498 ft / 4418 m

Ascent Trip Report

Mt. Whitney Trail Report June 20, 2014

Hikers: Me (Scott) and my girlfriend, Erika. Both 28 years old, do a fair amount of running, hiking, and other outdoor activities. Whitney will be our longest and highest hike to date.

Whitney-specific training: hike San Gorgonio (tallest peak in Southern California) along the South Fork trail, 22 miles roundtrip, from 6900 feet to the summit at 11500 feet, for a total elevation gain of 4600 feet. 5 hours up, 30 minutes at the summit, and 4 hours down.

Thursday, June 19, 2014: Drive from San Diego to Whitney Portal Campground. Arrive at 10 PM. Set up camp and get to sleep.

Friday, June 20, 2014: Wake at 3 AM and break camp, gather food and scented items and place in bear lockers in the parking lot. Gear up and get on the trail at 425 AM. I had to stop early in the hike around the north fork of Lone Pine Creek to bandage some lingering heel blisters.

Got to the Log Crossing at 557 AM and entered the Whitney Zone 9 minutes later, at 606 AM.
By Outpost Camp, my upper thigh muscles/tendons near my hips began to hurt - my legs aren’t used to walking in such heavy boots (Scarpa Rebel Ultra). I usually wear really light running shoes and didn’t put enough training miles on the boots.

We reached Trailside Meadow at 747 AM and Consultation Lake at 817 AM.

We filtered water to refill our Camelbaks at Trail Camp. By this time I had only eaten two bananas, a Clif bar, and some trail mix. We started up the 97 switchbacks and I started bonking pretty hard by the time we were halfway up. Erika made me eat a PB&J sandwich, and I struggled to munch down another Clif bar. I found counting the switchbacks to be a good diversion and indicator of my progress, and didn’t find them annoying like some people do.

I slowly ascended the rest of the way to Trail Crest at 1133 AM and was glad for the short downhill to the John Muir junction. The view west to the Sequoia National Park was one of the most beautiful views I’ve ever seen. I was so happy just being able to experience that.

With my body drained of energy, it was such a physical struggle to get to the summit. The altitude didn’t seem to have a huge effect on me: my lungs felt fine, breathing was easy, and my head didn’t hurt, but I didn’t check my pulse or look for peripheral edema. I was drowsy, though, because I was so drained. Erika was hiking quickly and had to stop and wait for me every ten minutes or so. We made it to the summit at 2 PM, for an ascent time of 9.5 hours. We saw a SAR Chinook helicopter land and take off again a few minutes later, presumably performing a recovery of missing hiker.

Some nice hikers at the summit overheard me saying how drained I was and gave me a ginger chew and another gave me a salt pill. Erika was also making me eat more trail mix and a banana, but I threw up halfway through eating the banana. They also gave me some caffeine pills and an energy goo. These instantly perked me back up and I felt great again. I was drinking a lot of water on the hike, but I wasn’t replenishing my electrolytes. Erika was putting Mio Fit water enhancer into her Camelbak, but I had decided on plain water up until this point. For the descent, I would use Mio. I also changed into a fresh pair of sock liners and socks.

We left the summit at 245 PM and slowly made our way over the boulder fields back to the Trail Crest, stopping at the Muir junction for another snack break. I was going slow and decided to glissade down the chute while Erika took the 97 switchbacks. I had on a lightweight pair of gore-tex shell pants and gaitered boots, so I was prepared for the snow. I made it to the bottom of the snowfield at 449 PM and traversed over to the beginning of the switchbacks to meet Erika along her rapid descent. We refilled our water at one of the streams along the switchbacks.

My thigh/hip area remained sore and my energy was waning as we descended to Trailside Meadow, where we stopped for another food break (and also fed the mosquitoes). The next 2.5 miles down to Lone Pine Lake were very slow (1 MPH), and more than once Erika offered to give me a piggy back ride down. At this rate, we wouldn’t be done until 11 PM, and I didn’t want to descend in the dark for that long. I wanted a hot shower and a comfy bed. I took three Advil and perked up and we blazed down the last 3 miles of the trail, passing everyone that had previously passed us while I was trudging along. We made it down to the car at 905 PM, for a 6 hour 20 minute descent. A successful summit, but poor performance by me. I was so glad to have an amazing hiking partner to take care of me and keep me going. Got in the car and coasted down the Whitney Portal road and stayed at the Dow Villa historic inn.

Lessons learned: prehike, make sure feet are fully healthy and leg muscles/tendons are prepared. I’m going to start doing training hikes with ankle weights and a heavy pack. On hike, maintain electrolyte intake. I’ve never been a fan of energy gels/goos and other pills, but I’m going to have to use these for long efforts.

Summary Total Data
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail, Unmaintained Trail, Open Country, Snow on Ground
    Gear Used:
Ski Poles
Ascent Statistics
    Route:Main Trail
Descent Statistics

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